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Wednesday, 25 June 1941

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) . - I protest against the method by which the price of tea is fixed. According to any reading of recent press reports, the price of this commodity has been increased, by Sd.. per lb. since the declaration of Avar. The reason given is that increased charges are made for tea over.seas and increased freight charges are imposed. I accept that explanation, but I protest against the whole of the in- creased charges being passed on to the consumers, because rents, rates of interest and profits have not been reduced. It may he said that the Prices Commissioner has mot power to reduce rents, rates of interest and profits, hut this is a matter to which the Government should give consideration. The larger the number of men who leave Australia for service overseas, the smaller is the quantity of tea consumed, and where it can be shown to the satisfaction of the Prices Commissioner that a trader cannot carry on at the pre-war rate of profit, the price of tea is increased. If there is to he equality of sacrifice, and if landlords and wholesalers and retailei'3 are to bear their fair share of the war-time burden, the exorbitant rents charged for shops used- for the purpose of retailing tea and other commodities should be reduced, the interest rates" charged by banks should be reduced, and, in fact, all charges recovered through the price of tea should be reduced. The. Prices Commissioner, however, is maintaining the status quo for the landlord, the financier, and the wholesaler and- retailer of tea, and the whole of the hurden is being passed oh to the consumer. If the Government considers that the workers should give up the right to strike it must do something in respect of the right to profiteer. We cannot allow progressive profiteering, and at the same time maintain industrial peace. To the extent that these charges are passed on, and the purchasing power of the workers is reduced both directly and indirectly, the Government is primarily responsible for any industrial strikes and disputes that may occur. In a time of war, increases of prices cannot be justified.

Senator Spicer - Is that true of wages also?

Senator CAMERON - I shall deal with wages in a moment or two.' I am assuming that it is true that the increases of the price of tea are passed on, but the Government is placing the whole of. the burden on the consumers, and particularly the consumers who cannot pass on increased costs. I point out to Senator Spicer that any increase of wages i3 nullified almost simultaneously by increases of commodity prices. We are told that increased prices must be charged when wages are increased, but, even if the basic wage' were increased to £10 a week to-morrow, the increase would at once be met, under existing conditions, by increased prices, and the wage-worker would not be able to purchase any more loaves of bread, pounds of meat or fruit, or suits of clothes or housing than before. In terms of commodities and in terms of gold the basic wage is no higher to-day than it was when it was originally fixed at £2 2s. a week. That sum would purchase at that time the same quantity of food and clothing as could be bought for £49s., the basic wage of to-day.

Senator Spicer - The workers did not have wireless sets then as they do now.

Senator CAMERON - Does the honorable senator suggest that they should not have wireless sets?

Senator Spicer - Not at all.

Senator CAMERON - The cost of production in terms of labour-time, and in terms of gold is a diminishing factor, and it diminishes at a far greater rate thanthat at which the workers receive increased advantages in the shape of wireless sets which many have to purchase on the time payment system.

The position with regard to tea is similar to that regarding potatoes and other commodities where the growers are able to obtain prices sufficient to compensate them for the labour involved in their production. I suggest that the Prices Commissioner should take that matter into consideration. I do not suggest for a moment that he has the power to do wha should be done, but the Government should do what the New Zealand Government, is doing. It pays to the growers the maximum price that would enable them to live decently and pay their way, while at the same time they sold their products at the minimum price. Of course, there would be a balance to be made up.

Senator Spicer - Where would that come from ?

Senator CAMERON - From the Consolidated Revenue. A man receiving £1,000 a year would contribute more to the Consolidated Revenue than a man on the basic wage. He should, in dutybound, assist the wage-earner and the potato-grower to carry on. I had the temerity to say that the whole process of price fixing was a fraud and a farce and I repeat that, because it will remain so until the Government deals more equitably with the matter. The industrial peace that we wish to maintain and the relationship which is necessary for the organization of a total war effort can be established only by the Government giving sympathetic consideration to this problem. If the Government says that extra charges should be passed on to the workers, thus reducing their purchasing power, we shall not do what should be done in the direction of organizing the war-time effort.

Senator Herbert Hays - What does the honorable senator suggest as an alternative?

Senator CAMERON - I repeat that, when the price of tea or any other commodity is fixed, rather than that the price should be increased to the detriment of the consumer, and particularly the wageworker whose wage is fixed and cannot be increased, the Government should direct its attention to the manner in which charges are inflated by exorbitant capital charges such as rents, rates of interest, and profits. All these charges should be reduced.

Senator Spicer - Rent has been fixed, and so has interest.

Senator CAMERON - No; rents were not fixed . at the London Stores in, Melbourne.

Senator Herbert Hays - Wages are fixed according to the cost of Living.

Senator CAMERON - That may be; but should we succeed in convincing a judge of the Arbitration Court that the Statistician's figures reveal an increase of living costs, with the result that wages are increased, that increase is immediately offset by additional charges for rent and other things.

Senator Spicer - That is not so; rents are fixed.'

Senator CAMERON - The Government has notmade known to the people their rights under regulation 62, with the result that very few of them know what the true position is. When I directed the attention of certain tenants in the London Stores building, Melbourne, to the position it made a great deal of difference. Rents are being increased. It may be that a man pays £1 a week for a house, but should he sub-let certain rooms, thereby allowing two families to occupy the house, he may receive 30s. a week for it. The Government has never attempted to reduce pre-war scents in order to offset the reduced purchasing power of the people. According to the press, certain tea merchants have 2>een able to declare a dividend of 15 per -cent.

Senator Spicer - To what newspaper does the honora.ble senator refer?

Senator CAMERON - One of them was the Melbourne Herald. By means of increases of commodity prices the purchasing power '-of wages is insidiously and ingeniously reduced. Such actions do snore to create industrial unrest than anything which an agitator may do. 1 direct attention to this matter in order that the Government will not be able #o plead ignorance of it. Senator. Spicer may think that this is a laughing matter, Suit I trust that other honorable senators on the Government benches will take a more serious view. Before sanctioning any increase of the price of tea,- and especially of commodities which are produced in Australia, .the Government should confer, with the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner in order to reduce, if possible, rents, rates of interest, profits and overhead charges generally. I do not suggest that employers should be asked to bear an undue burden, or to sacrifice their capital; but I do ask that. they shall hear "their fair share of the burden, and not leave it all on the shoulders of employees an factories rand the men who are fighting (the battles of the nation.

Senator FRASER("Western Australia) {9.20 ] . - I wish to clear up some misunderstanding which has arisen out of a statement which I made in . this chamber on the 2nd April when I directed attention to certain matters affecting universal trainees under the Defence Act. Men called up under the compulsory provisions of the Defence Act to undergo a preliminary medical examination frequently lose a day's pay, or a portion of a day's pay, without receiving any compensation. In some instances these men have to travel into country centres for examination and lose time from their work. Workers in the timber industry and others in outback places should not be penalized in that way. I ask the Minister to see that these men are compensated for the losses incurred by them in complying with the Act.

Some time ago, I drew attention to the treatment of young men who applied to join the Royal Australian Navy, but were rejected because at some earlier period in their lives they had committed some minor misdemeanour. These young men were not even medically examined. The reason given to the applicants for. their rejection is that in- certain respects they do not comply with necessary qualifications. I got in touch with the Naval Depot at Fremantle, and asked the reason for the rejection of certain young men, but all that I could get from them was that the applicants had not been up to the required standard. Obviously, the standard referred to was neither physical nor mental, because the young men in question had not been subjected -to either a physical or an educational test. The ' applicants were told that, although unsuitable for the Navy, they could apply to join some other branch of the service. Such treatment of lads is wrong, and the Government should not permit it.

Senator Leckie - Have these young men been rejected because of some previous misdemeanour?

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